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Anonymous, Captain, 39.

I’ve got a crew member on board who’s causing real trouble with their negativity and putting others down. Their moodiness about every little thing also seems to be rubbing off the other crew members, as a result, I am finding them to be negative too. I feel frustrated as my hands are tied. I can’t let this person go as the boss really likes them, so I need to know how to do damage control on them and stop them from bringing the whole boat down every time they wake up in a bad mood.

The Crew Coach

Unfortunately, a “toxic” person can be extremely damaging in a close-knit team environment of yachting as the negative attitude can spark collusion or simply contribute to a negative workplace climate, and you’re right to seek ways to defuse this situation before your crew harmony and morale entirely unravels.

The first thing to do is to find out what is causing the person in question to behave like this. Call them in for a private meeting to explore what is going on for them. If you are wanting to elicit information from the individual it is important that you not only ask the right questions but use an open-ended questioning style so that you can get a descriptive response rather than short no or yes answers. 

Highlight the behaviours that have warranted your concern and ask them why they are behaving in this manner and how is it serving them. ( Your objective here is to unpack the reason or motivation behind their behaviour, once you have identified this you can work on solving the underlying issue together).

The purpose of this meeting has a threefold purpose that of which is gathering information, offering them your help, and at the same time alerting the person how their behaviour is impacting others and what you would prefer to to see happen.

It may be that there is something going on with this crew member that is causing them to act out, so understanding what it is will help you know how to handle the next part of the conversation. Perhaps they are having personal problems with a family member or loved one at home – or perhaps there is a relationship on board that is fractured and upsetting them. Quite often the “toxic” crew member is so absorbed in their own drama they don’t realise that their behaviour is having a knock-on effect on everyone else.

Explain the crew member that their behaviour is having a negative effect on the other crew and this is not something you can allow to continue. Ideally, as part of your induction process, you would have a policy describing the expected behaviours on board that tie into the on board culture that you are trying to uphold. This document is always good to refer back to in these situations.

Ask them what support do they need in order to get this resolved. Is it something you can help with (ie is there a problem with another crew member or their job for example) or is it something at home. If it’s something outside the yacht, ask them what they need in order to get this addressed. Maybe they need some time off? If they are someone that can’t be fired because the boss likes them so much the boss would most probably allow this and it could be good for them to get off for a while so the crew can get a break and get the right help.

Whatever you decide and agree together, tell them you will check in with them again in a week’s time to see how things are going. Use this opportunity to also make it clear that if the issue isn’t resolved then a further intervention will need to take place. This shows the individual that you are there to help but by the same token, you will not tolerate anti-social behaviours.

Make sure you are clear about the kind of behaviour you are now expecting from them going forward, and describe how you will know that they are demonstrating these changes, as otherwise this may not be mutually understood. This gives them something specific to work towards and lets them know how you will measure their performance.

Make sure you do check in with them and if they have made improvements thank them and tell them how much you appreciate them for making the effort to help keep the crew morale high. Assert that you’re really counting on them to help you with this and you might find that they try even harder.

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

What do you think, how would you handle a “toxic” crew member? Share your thoughts in the comments below.